I was drawn to Wanderer: The Rebirth through its curious premise; a Monster Hunter or Dark Souls-esque third-person action game in which you take on a small handful of bosses using the Vive’s position-tracked wands. I had no idea if this was going to work, but it sounded unlike anything else in a time when VR is flooded with shooter clones and endless escape room games. I had to try it out.
Sadly, I wasn’t very surprised to find that Wanderer doesn’t work well at all.
It’s the brainchild of Chinese developer Wooway Games and should at the very least be praised for its strangeness. You fight bosses with a giant sword that isn’t tracked to your hands, but instead activated with the right trigger for standard attacks, while holding down the Vive’s grip buttons and moving the right wand in a certain direction to use special skills that need to cool down between uses. Moving is done with the left trackpad, dodging is done with the right trackpad. Your left controller takes the form of a crossbow that you can aim and shoot at enemies for a little extra firepower.
Remember all of that? Try doing that when you’re staring down a stone golem or trading blows with a chimera. Wanderer‘s control scheme is counter-intuitive to the point of making the game artificially difficult and incredibly tedious. Even on the easier difficulty enemies take chunks off of your health with one hit, meaning you need to be on your toes at all times and the Vive’s trackpads just aren’t designed to provide that kind of dexterity.
You also need to know when’s the perfect time to activate one of the long special move animations, during which you’re open to attacks. The gestures needed to perform these actions are unreliable, however, and combined with the stiff movement you can often end up facing the wrong way when you do activate them. If these had been simple button presses it would have been much more manageable.
My brain wrestled with the controls at every turn, and there frustratingly doesn’t seen to be a way to play the game with a standard gamepad controller, despite those prompts appearing in screenshots and trailers. I could be wrong, but trying to link up my controller to the game proved unsuccessful and it’s not listed on the Steam store page.
A third-person camera has been used to help player comfort, so it’s ironic that Wanderer is one of the more nauseating games I’ve played on the Vive. The game breaks several of the golden rules of VR on the camera front: as you run, your view seems to bob up and down, and when you’re scrapping up close the camera will twist against your will to get a view of the boss. I don’t often feel ill in VR games but even after a minute or two of stepping into the arena with one of the game’s bosses I began to sweat.
It’s an immense shame, as you can tell that there’s the foundation for a decent game here, it’s just been tarnished by the insistence of supporting VR. Bosses are well designed and offer up fun takes on mythological creatures, and you can see the consideration that’s gone into your attack timing to make combat more strategic. Sure, VR support helps The Wanderer get noticed in the ever-growing Steam marketplace, but when it’s at the expense of quality that’s no excuse.
Structurally the game is somewhat off, too, as you have to clear the bosses on easy mode (which is no simple feat) before tackling the same task on medium and hard difficulties. Something tells me that, unless there’s some heavy patching to be done, few people will actually be making it through to these later modes.